Uber’s list of recent woes seems to have gotten a bit longer as unnamed sources are telling media outlets that the Department of Justice has launched a probe into software Uber allegedly used to help divers evade detection by law enforcement in localities where the ride-sharing business was banned or limited by statute.
The probe zeros in specifically on the “Greyball” software developed by Uber which identified and blocked rides to transportation regulators posing as customers in an attempt to prove Uber was operating illegally under-the-radar.
As of yet, Uber has no comment on the investigation — nor does the the DoJ, beyond citing its practice of not confirming or denying possible investigations.
Uber’s official position on greyballing — according to a letter sent to city authorities in Portland — is that it is the practice of showing some customers a different version of the app than most customers see. Uber’s attorney claims the program was used sparingly — and not at all since 2015 when, Portland adopted preliminary rules for Uber’s operation in the city.
Uber — with a $70 billion valuation and a reputation for being hard-charging (even by Silicon Valley starndards) — has been hit with a series of PR problems in recent weeks and months. In February, a female engineer wrote a blog post about the extraordinarily toxic work environment the firm’s female employees face. That post going viral prompted a public apology from CEO Travis Kalanick and former Attorney General Eric Holder being brought in to investigate the allegations.
Kalanick was then videotaped verbally attacking an Uber driver who complained about the company’s wages. That was followed by a high-profile trade secrets lawsuit from its competitor in self-driving cars, Waymo.
Waymo is the self-driving car division of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
The firm alleges that Uber and a former Google employee stole 14,000 documents detailing Waymo’s proprietary technology. Waymo has requested that a judge temporarily block Uber’s self-driving program for the duration of the lawsuit.